Almost a year after Jaylen Twyman was shot four times while visiting his aunt in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C., the Vikings defensive tackle is back to pursuing his goal of getting his family out of the area where gun violence had already taken so much.
Twyman, 22, who returned to Vikings practice this spring, spent his rookie NFL season recovering from four bullet wounds that he said entered and exited his arm, leg and both buttocks without causing long-term damage. Three others were shot and had non-life threatening injuries in the June 2021 incident described as a random shooting, according to a police report and local news media.
“A couple shots rang out and after that, I don't even remember, man. It was kind of like I blacked out a little bit.”
Twyman, a sixth-round pick last year out of Pittsburgh, said family and Vikings teammates like fellow 2021 draft pick Janarius Robinson kept his spirits up. Robinson also spent their rookie seasons rehabbing an injury.
"Just getting lean, getting back down to my playing weight," Twyman said after practice on Wednesday. "Getting stronger, getting my right arm together and my leg."
Physically, the 285-pound Twyman waited four months for his wounds to close before he was cleared to train again. The shot to his right arm was the toughest to overcome. The bullet "just missed" his biceps, Twyman said, but required him to plug the hole with gauze and limited his range of motion for months.
"Once it healed and closed up, I started doing light curls, pushups," Twyman said. "My trainers here with the Vikings and my [personal] trainer, they were ping-ponging off each other and were both on the same page. Once I went into the offseason, it was an easy transition."
Twyman didn't reveal much about what happened around 5 p.m. on June 21 outside of his aunt's house. The afternoon quickly became a blur. He remembers leaving the house and getting into his car.
"A couple shots rang out," Twyman said, "and after that, I don't even remember, man. It was kind of like I blacked out a little bit."
The scene was too familiar for Twyman and his family. According to a Washington Post article in 2016, he lost an uncle to a drive-by shooting in 2014 less than a mile from his high school in D.C. Two years later, his older brother was shot and killed just before Twyman's senior year as a star defensive lineman.
"My family members, every other week, one of them deceased or one of them just in a shootout or one of them locked up," Twyman told the Post in 2016. "It's just pushed me to try to get everybody, get all my family members, out of poverty. Nobody needs to be around this."
His mission is back on track at TCO Performance Center, where the Vikings begin a two-day mandatory minicamp on Tuesday. He's learning a new position in the 3-4 defensive front under coordinator Ed Donatell after being drafted as a 4-3 defensive tackle. But the team's new coaches aim to have "no preset expectations of what a guy can or can't do," head coach Kevin O'Connell said.
"You love the look in his eyes so far," O'Connell said. "He'll be a guy we're watching closely."
Twyman said he's been leaning on veteran defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson, who has assisted fellow interior linemen this spring in moving to a new spot categorized as a 3-4 defensive end, which aligns wider on the inside shoulder of offensive tackles. Tomlinson played in a similar defense before at Alabama and with the Giants.
"That's the mental part, especially for the big guys," Donatell said. "When you put the pads on, then we see a little more. We have some practices versus the 49ers, we'll see a lot [from] those guys and then the preseason games. So really, the evaluation starts when the pads come on."
Training camp in late July will be a long time coming for Twyman. He hasn't donned pads since December 2019 because he opted out of Pittsburgh's 2020 season and missed all of last season.
"I've been in great spirits being around my teammates," Twyman said. "They're uplifting me, and it's just been fun. I can't wait to get back out there this season."